Heart disease now has a new face – it’s young, fit and female. Journal of American College of Cardiology reports that deaths caused by heart disease in women under 45 years old have been increasing by 1.3 percent each year since 1997.
The typical cardiac patient has historically been a middle-aged or older male; females have been left out of heart disease research studies, which have led to the perception that it does not pertain to women. Female-oriented vascular conditions such as microvascular disease and pregnancy-related heart troubles are less understood than coronary-artery disease which triggers heart attacks in men. Meanwhile 4 in 10 women do not recognize heart disease’s most life threatening sign until it is too late – a heart attack!
The number of young women (under 45) who die from coronary heart disease each year is roughly comparable to the number of women who die of breast cancer, yet there are numerous breast cancer awareness organizations and little in the way of heart disease education. Thus this month’s article will investigate and educate women on risk factors and screening steps.
Doctors are not making the connection between suspicious symptoms and a significant cardiac event in female patients. A recent study presented 800 physicians with patient profiles in which the heart risk levels were identical, but the genders differed. Even when a woman’s risk was the same as a man’s, doctors were more likely to classify her case as low risk.
Women develop different type of heart disease than men and the symptoms and complexity is yet to be researched. Heart disease in women strikes multiple smaller arteries while men more commonly develop a single large plaque that clearly blocks a single artery.
Another reason women with heart disease are being inadequately examined and tested may have to do with the under-recognized connection between the reproductive organs and heart health. Irregular menstrual cycle and hormonal imbalances play a role in coronary vessels tightening and thus making you more susceptible to heart disease and heart attacks.
Pregnancy and pregnancy-related complications such as pre-eclampsia, eclampsia and gestational diabetes can trigger heart disease by increasing blood clotting and risks of high blood pressure. New moms are often told that these conditions are pregnancy-specific and are resolved after birth of their child. New research now shows that they can have an impact years after the pregnancy.
3 steps to prevention:
1. Know your numbers
By age 30 get your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels checked annually.
2. Know your risks
Abnormal cholesterol levels
High blood pressure
Drug or tobacco use
Birth control pills
Poor diet and lack of exercise
3. Get Checked
Based on your numbers, many doctors will use online tools to assess your risk level and determine what tests you need. Ask your doctor about female-focused Reynalds Risk Score (reynoldsriskscore.org) which accounts for all the risks as well as factors that can be particularly troubling in women, such as certain cholesterol types and inflammatory markers specific to females.
Signs, symptoms, and risk factors for heart disease can be subtle or seemingly harmless and prevention is extremely valuable. Educate yourself on risks, take care of your body, and ask your doctor for a checkup. Call us for a free consultation or to check your blood pressure at 949.387.1333